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Adding value with an upskilled workforce

02 March 2018

Alison Wheelock demonstrates the value of upskilling the workforce. 

Because product recalls can do serious damage to profits, business reputation, and potential harm to consumers, everyone involved in the food industry should be aware of the importance of producing food which is safe to eat.

Ensuring that employees have the appropriate skills to perform their job effectively is key to achieving efficiency and productivity and guarding against poor food safety practices. However, it should be noted that there is a distinct difference between training and competency.

Anyone can undertake training, but unless what they have learned is retained, applied in the workplace and monitored, then they cannot be deemed competent. It is therefore essential that employees understand what they need to do, but also the reason for doing it. For example, some employees can often develop a different way of doing a task which can, unwittingly, compromise the safety of the product. Addressing issues such as this through education can help reduce the number of non-conformances noted in an audit.

Training should always be seen as adding value, rather than a box-ticking exercise for auditing purposes. Companies who invest in training tend to experience a lower level of staff turnover. The recruitment process can be lengthy and expensive, so promoting from within is always worth considering. If staff are able to expand their skills-base and develop within the company, they are far more likely to stay put. Investing in personal development boosts morale and has a positive impact on productivity. Individuals feel responsibility and pride for their area.

The ultimate goal is to foster a food safety culture, where staff at all levels are fully engaged. Staff members can also qualify to be an internal trainer. If, for example, if they achieve an education and training qualification and already hold a Level 4 qualification in HACCP, they can train up others up to Level 3 HACCP. Not only does this improve the skills of the individual, it adds value to the business, since training can be undertaken in-house.

Good quality training will involve dipping into the budget, so you need to make sure you are getting value for money. If you search the Internet, there are countless online courses available, which are certainly cost-effective, and are probably adequate for basic training. They allow the trainee to study at their own pace and provide an electronic record of training achievements.

Classroom or online?
For more in-depth subjects there is no substitute for face-to-face training. Tina Sayers, a technical account manager at potato processors PAS Grantham, agrees. She said: “Classroom courses enable group discussion, question and answer sessions, real-world examples from both the tutor and course attendees – all of this helps to build understanding from the participants.

“There is a place for online training, but I don’t think it’s ideal for complex subjects such as HACCP, but from a personal point of view, I retain information from a classroom course, but have a hard time remembering anything I’ve learned from online training.” Before any initial outlay do consider the following:
• Is the training provider established and reputable?
• Do they specialise in the food industry?
• Do the course tutors have hands-on food industry experience?
• Are the qualifications accredited and recognised within the food industry?
• What is the training provider’s examination pass rate?
• Does the quoted price include examination fees, refreshments, course materials etc?

Career progression
As a minimum, anyone handling food needs basic food safety training. If they progress to a supervisory role, they will need further appropriate training. Managers also benefit from advanced level qualifications commensurate with their role.

Other specialist training courses which will upskill employees and benefit the company cover subjects such as as Root Cause Analysis, Managing Food Allergens, Legal Labelling, TACCP and VACCP.

Yanis Skerstins, of pladis is a fan of face-to-face training. He said: “On my course (RSPH Level 4 HACCP) the tutor used his own industry knowledge and encouraged the room to share their experiences to ensure everyone understood both the theoretical and practical applications of HACCP.

“Since the course I assumed a lead role within my HACCP team and have recently started working within the global audit and assessment function for pladis. The skills learned from the HACCP course have enabled me to effectively review supplier HACCP plans and evaluate their effectiveness.”

Lianne Davis, who completed a RSPH course is a great example of the benefits of upskilling. After graduating with a BSc (Hons) in medical microbiology, she began her food industry career at Greencore Frozen Foods. She completed courses in HACCP, metal detection and weight control which were instrumental in gaining the position of quality and specifications technologist at Symingtons Millerdale in November 2011. She became a member of the internal audit and HACCP teams and over six years undertook numerous training courses, progressing within Symingtons to her current role of quality and compliance manager with responsibility for two large sites.

“During my first two years I attended courses in all the major UK retailer web portal and specifications systems which helped to give a solid foundation and enabled me to be successful in the role. Attendance at a ‘Legal Labelling’ course allowed me to take responsibility for artwork approvals for product launches.

“Together with the practical skills learned during this time, the knowledge from external training courses helped me progress to the role of senior technical co-ordinator. Qualifications then gained in Level 4 HACCP and Food Safety were essential to being offered the position of QA manager of the site.

“Gaining a FDQ Lead Auditing qualification gave me the skills for training and development of the site internal audit system and team as part of my new role. Subsequently this opened the opportunity to become QA manager at the main production site with full responsibility for the QMS system across a significantly larger and more complex operation. Attendance on more specialist courses led to my promotion to dual site quality manager with full responsibility for the QMS for two Symingtons sites. Courses in TACCP, VACCP and product integrity led to promotion into my current position.”

Some roles, such as Lianne’s, or clients, such as major supermarkets, require senior members of staff to have advanced level qualifications in HACCP, Food Safety and Auditing. Graduate recruits keen to climb the career ladder are perfect candidates for training, but so too are people with years of practical experience in food production, but no recent qualifications or refresher training. The courses and qualifications give them assurance that what they are doing is right, as well as the confidence to implement new systems and make changes.

Alison Wheelock is managing director of food industry training company, Verner Wheelock.

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